Where To Now?
If you were to tell any physical therapist in 2019 what his or her practice would look like in the year 2021, they probably wouldn’t believe you. The PTs who navigated 2020 had to overcome numerous challenges, many with little to no guidance.
So, where does that leave us now? And what does the new normal of physical therapy even look like?
There are many variables still influencing modern physical therapy, and things will continue to evolve as we rollout COVID-19 vaccines, develop technology, and improve patient access to physical therapy. Still, there are a few meaningful trends that are worth putting on your radar.
Preparing For More Patients
A recent survey by McKinsey & Company showed a 35% decrease in surgical volumes between March and July of 2020, with a projection of decreased volume for the remainder of the year.
So, what does that mean for practice management in the new normal?
In 2021, McKinsey & Company is projecting a backlog containing millions of elective surgeries, which will likely send many patients to physical therapy afterward. The current workforce shortages, inpatient bed availability, and room capacity, are holding hospitals and physicians back from addressing this backlog—even in 2021.
It’s easy to speculate this massive backlog will create a mountain of demand that will take years to address. The health crisis has also created a bottleneck effect on physical therapy in general, with many patients putting off treatment until vaccines are administered. As people start to receive elective surgeries, the surge in demand will likely overhaul the existing supply of physical therapists.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting physical therapy “To grow 18 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy is expected to come from aging baby boomers, who are not only staying active later in life but are susceptible to health conditions, such as strokes, that may require physical therapy.” The average growth is a staggering 4%, meaning physical therapy—without taking the backlog into account—is already projected to grow 4.5x faster than the average job between 2019-2029.
Practice owners can benefit by getting ahead of this trend. Simplifying processes and putting systems in place that encourage growth should give PTs an opportunity to capitalize on demand. Offering patients a wide variety of services—including telehealth—can set your practice apart from others. Networking with physicians and getting your marketing strategy airtight could significantly expand your patient base in the coming years.
Layout the blueprint for growth now before the demand is overwhelming.
Going Digital to Increase Access for Patients
Technology is optimizing the way PTs conduct business, and it’s also expanding self-service options for patients. Patients can now fill out forms online, book a PT session, and automatically receive appointment reminders. These enhancements are not only cost-effective for both parties, but they improve recovery and productivity.
Additionally, PTs can enhance their offering by providing access via telehealth services. Patients can receive a physical therapy session in the comfort of their home. The added accessibility, time saving, and safety of telehealth therapy is a considerable incentive for patients to speak with a physical therapist. While the adoption of telehealth services is in its infancy, the health crisis shows that comprehensive care provided in a virtual setting is impactful—even for physical therapists.
Marketing Through Fresh Digital Mediums
The way practice owners are marketing their services is changing as digital marketing mediums take the front seat of advertisement and building brand image. If 81% of shoppers research their product onlinebefore purchasing, how many patients are scanning physical therapy websites and looking through social media profiles before trusting PTs with their recovery?
Social media shows no sign of slowing down. Many PTs are using LinkedIn and Facebook to advertise their practice to a local audience. Patients look to these platforms for authenticity through web presence and patient testimonials. Practice owners who manage a digital marketing campaign are likely to add some of these cost-effective marketing materials to their arsenal to showcase their practice’s efficiency and engage with patients outside of the clinic.
Most importantly, social media gives PTs an airhorn to educate prospective patients on the importance of physical therapy. The education factor is huge when you’re speaking with an audience bound to have multiple people suffering from treatable conditions, some of which could lead to surgery without the proper care.
Webinars & Podcasts
Physical therapists who want to become more involved with their patients, especially in combination with an excellent social media presence, are turning towards more actionable content that patients can use to boost their recovery.
Webinars and podcasts are a great way to educate patients about the efficiency of physical therapy concerning specific ailments. The conversational flow allows PTs to speak freely on joint anatomy, common pain points, and exercises to prevent further damage. It’s also great PR and can strengthen brand image and drive future business.
More PTs are leaning on alternative methods of marketing to become active in their community and educate patients. It also pays to be the leader and expert on physical therapy in the community, usually through referrals.
Education and Response to Patient Feedback
Technology trends point to the need for instant communication across all platforms, and like it or not—patients expect it. With increased access to physical therapy services, new marketing techniques, and an influx of new patients, practice owners will need to stay alert for chances to educate patients and respond to feedback.
The health crisis is still influencing many people across the United States, and it’s a challenge practice owners confront every day. Providing the latest information on regulatory changes and health and safety updates is imperative as PTs try and locate a path to normalcy. Implementing different policies and technology could also be welcome or worrisome for some patients, which is why practice owners should seek out constructive feedback.
The Bottom Line
Extraordinary Times Call for Extraordinary Care
2020 was a challenging year for most, and the fight isn’t over yet. Patients still need physical therapy, so they can eliminate physical boundaries and lead a fulfilling life. Getting ahead of the new normal isn’t an easy task, but practice owners who know what to expect can be prepared. PTs who implement an all-in-one physical therapy software, build a network through social media and alternative marketing methods, and use intelligent solutions like telehealth services can master the patient experience and get ready for the incoming volume.